Class action suit details beatings, denial of medical care
BOISE – The American Civil Liberties Union sued state prison officials and a private company Thursday, claiming violence is so rampant at the Idaho Correctional Center that it’s known as “gladiator school” among inmates.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit against Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America in U.S. District Court in Boise.
The lawsuit says Idaho’s only private prison is extraordinarily violent, with guards deliberately exposing inmates to brutal beatings from other prisoners as a management tool.
The group contends the prison then denies injured inmates medical care to save money and hide the extent of injuries.
Steve Owen, Corrections Corporation of America’s director of public affairs, said the company would respond to the lawsuit through court filings. He said state officials have unfettered access to the prison and provide strong oversight at the facility, including daily on-site monitoring.
“For the past decade, CCA has safely and securely managed the Idaho Corrections Center on behalf of our government partner, the Idaho Department of Corrections,” Owen said in a prepared statement. “Our hardworking, professional staff and management team are held accountable to high standards by our government partner, to include those of the American Correctional Association – the highest professional standards in the country for correctional management.”
Idaho Department of Correction Director Brent Reinke said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not immediately comment.
Stephen Pevar, senior attorney for the ACLU, said he has sued at least 100 jails and prisons, but none came close to the level of violence at Idaho Correctional Center.
“Our country should be ashamed to send human beings to that facility,” he said.
The ACLU is asking for class-action status and $155 million in punitive damages – the entire net profit reported by the company in 2009.
The ACLU said the money should go to lead plaintiff Marlin Riggs, who sustained permanent facial deformities and other medical problems after he was savagely beaten in his cell.
Guards use violence to control prisoner behavior, forcing inmates to “snitch” on other inmates under the threat of moving them to the most violent sections of the prison, ACLU-Idaho Executive Director Monica Hopkins said.
Hopkins said inmates will be beaten by fellow inmates if they become known as a snitch. If they refuse to give up names, the guards will have them beaten anyway, she said.
“It doesn’t do us any good as a society to put people in there where they have to turn to other gangs and become gang members to protect themselves,” Hopkins said. “The thing is, there’s a constitutional duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.”
The lawsuit also refers to an investigation by the Associated Press based on public records requests that found the level of violence at the prison was three times higher than at other Idaho prisons, and that Idaho Department of Correction officials believed violence was also dramatically underreported by Corrections Corporation of America and inmates.
At the time of that report, Steven Conry, CCA’s vice president of facility operations, maintained the prison was safe and well-run.
The Idaho Correctional Center, located south of Boise, houses about 2,000 prisoners. The prison opened in July 2000. The ACLU contends it is understaffed, with sometimes only two guards on duty to control prison wings with as many as 350 inmates.
The ACLU lawsuit details the inmate-on-inmate attacks of about two dozen men, all of whom said they told guards they were in danger of being assaulted, had been assaulted or needed medical care after an assault.
In all the cases, the ACLU contends the men were summarily denied help.
Corrections Corporation of America has faced numerous lawsuits from employees and inmates at the Idaho prison and elsewhere, but class-action lawsuits against the company appear to be rare.
In 1999, the company settled for $1.6 million in a class-action lawsuit brought by inmates at a private prison in Ohio who said they’d been subjected to excessive force from guards. The company also has paid out millions of dollars to settle dozens of individual lawsuits.
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